This week, we are commencing a series of pulpit messages on the Gospel of Mark. The following brief introduction gives us some background information pertinent to our study of this second Gospel.
Of the four Gospels, the Gospel of Mark with its sixteen chapters is the simplest and the shortest to read. It contains 678 verses (Dake’s Annotated Reference Bible) in comparison to 1,071 in Matthew; 1,151 in Luke; and 879 in John.
Of the four Gospels, only the Gospels of Matthew and John were written by apostles. Luke (and the Acts of the Apostles) was written by Dr. Luke who accompanied the apostle Paul on his second missionary journey. Mark was written by the evangelist John Mark. But where did Mark obtain his apostolic authority to write his Gospel? It is generally believed that Mark wrote under the direction and sanction of the apostle Peter. The early Church Fathers associated Mark with Peter and it is possible that the two men had a longstanding relationship. When Peter was delivered from prison by an angel, he fled to the house of Mark’s mother (Acts 12: 12-17). Moreover, Peter addressed him as “Marcus my son” in I Peter 5: 13; it is likely that the apostle had been instrumental in Mark's conversion.
Who was Mark? He was the young man who accompanied the apostle Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey through Asia Minor. At Pamphylia, he left the mission team and returned to Jerusalem (Acts 13: 13). No reasons were given for his departure. Paul was disappointed with him and refused to be associated with him in his second missionary journey (Acts 15: 37-39). Later, however, the two parties were reconciled, as reflected in Paul’s positive remarks about Mark: “ … Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry” (II Tim. 4: 11). In Philemon 1: 24, Paul named Mark as one of his fellowlabourers. The apostle also commended him to the Colossian church: “and Marcus, sister’s son to Barnabas, (touching whom ye received commandments: if he come unto you, receive him” (Col. 4: 10).
John the apostle began his Gospel from eternity when Jesus Christ, the Word co-existed with God the Father. Matthew started with Jesus as the Son of Man, and Luke began his Gospel with the birth of John the Baptist, the heralder of the Messiah’s coming. But Mark started with the ministry of John the Baptist. He then proceeded to present the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ, from His baptism till His resurrection, commission to His disciples and His ascension.
The Gospel of Mark which begins abruptly, omits the story of Jesus’ birth and childhood. Also excluded is the genealogy of Christ (which is found in Matthew and Luke), as Mark’s focus was on Christ as a Servant “for who gives the genealogy of a servant?” (1917 Scofield Reference Bible Notes). Everywhere in the Gospel, the servant character of the incarnate Son of God is evident (1: 35; 3: 7; 4: 1, 38; 6: 7, 40; 12: 41; 13: 3; 15: 39). The key verse is Mark 10: 45: “For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister.”
o Date of Writing
There is no internal evidence from the Gospel to indicate when Mark wrote his Gospel. Apparently, at the time of writing, the Temple in Jerusalem and the city’s buildings had still been in existence (13: 1-2). The Jews were still safely living in Jerusalem. Based upon this record, many believe that Mark’s Gospel must have been written sometime before the Roman invasion of Israel, the destruction of the Temple and the dispersion of the Jews in AD 70. The probable date of writing could be around AD 67-69.
However, some commentators hold a different view. “According to tradition, Mark went to Alexandria in Egypt where he died in AD 64. Barnes suggests the book was written between AD 56 and 63 and other scholars date the book in the early 50's. A plausible date would be AD 57-59” (Bible Knowledge Commentary).
The Gospel of Mark was written largely for the Gentiles, especially the Roman Christians. “That it was not for Jews but Gentiles, is evident from the great number of explanations from Jewish usages, opinions, and places, which to a Jew would at that time have been superfluous, but were highly needful for a Gentile. We can here but refer to Mark 2: 18; 7: 3; 12: 18; 13: 3; 14: 12; 15: 42, for examples of these” (J F Brown Commentary).
Despite the brevity of Mark’s Gospel, it gives a complete account of the major events of Christ’s life and portrays His deeds more than His words. Announcing his subject, Mark's hastening over the ministry of John the heralder and subsequent advancing to narrate the baptism and temptation of Christ “as if impatient to come to the public life of the Lord of glory – have often been noticed as characteristic of this Gospel – a Gospel whose direct, practical, and singularly vivid setting imparts to it a preciousness peculiar to itself” (J F Brown Commentary).
Like John, Mark recognised in Christ, “the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father” (Jn. 1: 14). But he noted in his Gospel, the evidences of Christ’s humanity – His fatigue (4: 38; 11: 12; 14: 36); sympathy (6: 34; 8: 2); grief (3: 5); sighing (7: 34; 8: 12); anger (3: 5; 10: 14).
o Brief Outline of the Gospel of Mark (http://executableoutlines.com/pdf/mark_so.pdf)
1. The preparation for Jesus’ ministry (1: 1-13)
2. His ministry in Galilee (1: 14 - 9: 50)
3. His journey to Jerusalem (10: 1-52)
4. His ministry in Jerusalem (11: 1 - 13: 37)
5. His suffering and death in Jerusalem (14: 1 - 15: 47)
6. His resurrection and appearances (16: 1-13)
7. His great commission and continued work from heaven (16: 14-20)
Mark’s Gospel focused on Christ as the perfect Servant. Though He is the King of glory, our Lord Jesus Christ came to earth “not to be ministered unto, but to minister” (Mk. 10: 45). Let us follow our Saviour’s example in serving God and our fellowmen. Let us prayerfully look forward to a time of fruitful learning from Mark’s Gospel. May the Lord challenge our hearts with the truths from His precious Word.